I had the opportunity to attend the Courageous Women Fearless Living retreat on a full scholarship last week. I am grateful for the opportunity. I met a lot of lovely women, and many who have been on this road a lot longer, and have been through a lot more than I have. I feel a bit of a newbie in comparison. In some ways it is comforting, in other ways it is scary to hear others’ stories. I found myself needing to be careful how much I took in about others’ stories, in order to not progress in fear.
Another thing I was wanting to be careful of was the issue of wanting to avoid making cancer part of my identity. I’ve read in multiple places that that is not healthy. Getting invested in the diagnosis, making it part of how I present myself to the world, and creating a new identity out of being sick, is not a good way to get rid of the sickness. Wrong direction. So I was aware of wanting to be careful of that. As Eckhart Tolle would say, this experience is not my life, but my life situation.
As there are no problems in the Now, there is no illness either. The belief in a label that someone attaches to your condition keeps the condition in place, empowers it, and makes a seemingly solid reality out of a temporary imbalance. It gives it not only reality and solidity but also a continuity in time that it did not have before. By focusing on this instant and refraining from labeling it mentally, illness is reduced to one or several of these factors: physical pain, weakness, discomfort, or disability. That is what you surrender to — now. You do not surrender to the idea of “illness.” Allow the suffering to force you into the present moment, into a state of intense conscious presence. Use it for enlightenment.
(Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now (p. 217). New World Library. Kindle Edition.)
Are you seriously ill and feeling angry now about what I have just said? Then that is a clear sign that the illness has become part of your sense of self and that you are now protecting your identity — as well as protecting the illness. The condition that is labeled “illness” has nothing to do with who you truly are.
(Tolle, Eckhart. The Power of Now (p. 218). New World Library. Kindle Edition.)
So, how to be in this moment with the pain, weakness, discomfort, or disability, and allow it to be, without allowing it to become my identity? Stay in the Now. Right now I have a migraine, so that is my pain or discomfort. Other than that, nothing to be concerned with. But I’ll get back to that later.
The retreat was in a beautiful area, Shambhala Mountain Center, and was quiet, and peaceful.
Here are some photos:
Because I’m an introvert (recharge my internal batteries by being alone) and an HSP (highly sensitive person), plus being in the middle of treatment, and therefore more tired and less strong than normal, I decided to pick and choose what parts of the official retreat I attended. I needed more sleep than was built into the schedule, and I needed more alone time.
I decided to use alone time to process through Lissa Rankin’s self diagnosis and prescription worksheet from her book Mind Over Medicine. I’ve been intending to do this for some time, but it has gotten waylaid by the numbers of other things I’ve been trying to do to heal myself. However, I’m becoming more and more convinced that my personal healing journey is a bit lopsided towards physical treatment, rather than mental/emotional/spiritual. Mind Over Medicine addresses that, as does Radical Remission. In Radical Remission seven of the nine things are not physical. They are mind/body. And I feel I have been neglecting them. So having the opportunity to work on that was very helpful to me in this retreat.
Being away from home, and responsibilities there, and being able to have time to focus without distraction, was welcome. There were interesting times, and fun times (a pajama party!), a lovely dress-up banquet, plenty of humor, including morbid humor, and hugs and support.
And I found myself not really wanting to be part of this sisterhood. I mean, who really wants to be part of a sisterhood of women experiencing cancer? Probably none of us. And yet the fact remains. So I will walk a fine line of support, giving and receiving, while also refraining from making it my identity. Somehow.
So, this morning as I was getting ready for a reasonably full day, my lower right field of vision began to disappear, and then it turned into an official migraine “aura” or “visual field disturbance” with a black and white squiggly line in my lower right field of vision. So I attempted to nip it in the bud with some meds and an epsom salt bath. So far it is at a level of 2 out of 10. I may yet need to lie down, but at least it hasn’t exploded into full-on migraine. That is the blessing of aura: warning. It has been a while since I’ve had that experience.
Upcoming trip to BC
Which brings me to my next consideration. Next week after chemo I’ll again be heading to Canada for more hyperthermia. And this time I’m scheduled to do whole body, but I’ve had two migraines in the last couple of weeks. And I know getting too hot is a trigger for me, so now I’m wondering if a tendency toward migraine is a contraindication for WBH. I have inquired of the clinic. So we’ll see. I may just stay with loco-regional.
I have pretty much scheduled the exact same trip as last time. I’ll be staying at the same AirBNB, and this time I will take piano music with me, plan on feeling unwell and only eating soup, and generally doing things in a little bit more refined way than last time. It will be helpful to not be doing it from scratch this time.
Last time I found myself thinking the whole experience would be more fun with Grant there, and he has needed, and will need, to stay home, take care of the house and pets, and continue on with his many clients that are lined up for construction projects. He does good work, and is booked out for some time, so there is no shortage of work, for which we are both grateful, and which requires managing the flow. So off I will go on my own, and maybe another time we can go to the Pacific Northwest for vacation.
Speaking of Grant, he has been so supportive, and my rock through all this, and he is getting tired, as I am. Burnout in dealing with this situation is approaching for both of us. He has the opportunity to go to a caregivers support group occasionally, as he is able, although it is in the middle of the work day. He also has counseling help. But it is a lot, the stress of the situation. He also is caregiving for his mother, as power of attorney, so he’s got double stress in that way.
So we both work on our mindfulness and our Now-fulness, in order to not get overwhelmed. We work on being aware of our “parts” and which parts need a little more help and support. I would really like him to be able to take a retreat like I did, go up to Shambhala for a couple of days, do sitting meditation, go on hikes, and generally recharge, because he certainly deserves it, and requires it. So I hope that works out soon. Here are a few sites that suggest caregiving of caregivers:
If any of you in the NoCo area are willing and able to give my dear Grant a little extra support, I would appreciate it, maybe especially while I’m gone next week.
One of the things that came up for me today, and has been coming up recently, is a part of me that is feeling grief that my life hasn’t gone the way I would have hoped. I had a good cry this morning, and Grant was a good crying-board, bless his heart.
It is a normal part of adult development to evaluate how one’s life has gone, and whether it has been worth it. In Eriksonian psychology, these two levels are called Generativity vs Stagnation, and Ego Integrity vs Despair. As it says of the latter,
This stage can occur out of the sequence when an individual feels they are near the end of their life (such as when receiving a terminal disease diagnosis).
If, as my doctors are saying, ovarian cancer could be viewed as a chronic illness and I may have 10-15 more years, that still puts me not reaching a full lifespan. It shortens my opportunity to do something with this life that feels right to me. I already felt behind the eight ball, and now even more so, to catch up, to make something worthwhile of my life, to experience that which I want to experience, and to be of service in some meaningful way. So that is a thing I’m dealing with.
In any case it is time for me to move on to the next thing today. Many thanks for your support and attention.